1902 Encyclopedia > Jeremiah

One of the prophets of the Hebrew Bible
(born 7th Century BC)

JEREMIAH. 1. Life.—The narrative portions of the Book of Jeremiah are singularly full and precise, and even apart from these the subjective, lyric tone of the prophet's mind enables us to form a more distinct idea of his character than we have of any other prophetic writer. He was the son of a priest named Hilkiah, and it has been held by many both in ancient and in modern times that this Hilkiah was the celebrated high priest of that name, who " found the book of the law (Torah) in the house of Jehovah" (2 Kings xxii. 8). This conjecture, indeed, is not a very probable one, for Hilkiah the high priest was of the house of Eleazar (1 Chron. ii. 13), and Anathoth, where Jeremiah's family lived, was occupied by priests of | the line of Ithamar (1 Kings ii. 26). It is certain, how-i ever, that the prophet was treated by priests and officials j with a consideration which seems to argue that he had high connexions. Jeremiah was still young when he was called to the prophetic career (i. 6) ; the year is stated by himself (i. 2, xxv. 3) to have been the 13th of Josiah (629 j or 627 B.C.). This was before the memorable " discovery " j of the Torah, but the year immediately following that in which Josiah " began to purge Judah and Jerusalem from i the high places and the images of Asherah" (2 Chron. ! xxxiv. 3). As yet, it appeared as if Judah was enjoying j the peace promised to faithful worshippers of Jehovah; but the punishment of the sins of Manasseh was not to be ; long delayed. The battle of Megiddo (609 B.C.), which cost Josiah his life, and that of Carchemish (605 B.C.), which determined the Babylonian predominance to the ! west of the Euphrates, were the heralds of a fatal turn in the fortunes of the kingdom of Judah. Jeremiah (the Phocion of Judaea) saw this, and at once foretold the vast extension of Nebuchadnezzar's power. For the most part, his ministry was exercised in the capital, though from xi. 21 it may perhaps be inferred that he prophesied for some little time in his native place. It was during the reign of Jehoiakim that he went through that baptism of complicated suffering which has made him in a very high and true sense a type of One greater than he. King and people, priests and (official) prophets, were all against him, or at least the number of his supporters was too small to counterbalance the opposition. Only on one occasion, when accused of a capital crime as having " pro-phesied against this city," the " princes," supported by "certain of the elders" and "the people," were successful in quashing the accusation, and setting the prophet free. At a later time Jeremiah incurred a still greater danger, though he was providentially saved from the hands of his persecutors. In the fourth year of Jehoiakim (which, it is important to remember, was the first of Nebuchadnezzar) Jeremiah was commanded to write down " all the words that I have spoken unto thee against Israel, and against Judah, and against all the nations . . . from the days of Josiah even unto this day " (xxxvi. 2). The interpretation of this passage, clear as it seems at first sight, is by no means easy. "First of all, an historically accurate reproduction of the pro-phecies would not have suited Jeremiah's object, which was not historical but practical; he desired to give a salutary shock to the people, by bringing before them the fatal consequences of their evil deeds. And next, it appears from ver. 29 that the purport of the roll which the king burned was that the king of Babylon should ' come and destroy this land,' whereas it is clear that Jeremiah had uttered many other important declarations in the course of his already long ministry." The most probable view is that of Gratz, viz., that the roll simply contained chap, xxv., which is in fact (omitting the interpolations in vers. 12, 26) entirely concerned with the invasion of Nebuchad-nezzar and its consequences, and which expressly claims to have been written in the fourth year of Jehoiakim. " Is not this the prophecy which Jeremiah dictated to Baruch, and is not ver. 2 a loose, inaccurate statement due to a later editor 1 That the prophetic as well as the historical books have passed through various phases (without detri-ment to their religious value) is becoming more and more evident. The 7th and 8th chapters of Isaiah, and the 37th and 38th of the same book, have demonstrably beer, brought into their present shape by an editor; is it not highly reasonable to conjecture that these narrative chapters of Jeremiah have, to a greater or less extent, passed through a similar process?" The "princes," on this as on the former occasion (chap, xxvi.), were disposed to be friendly to Jeremiah and his secretary; but for some reason they felt themselves bound (as they did not feel themselves bound before) to refer the matter to the king. Jehoiakim was enraged at the contents of the prophetic roll, cut it in pieces, and threw them into the fire. This time Jeremiah escaped; but under the weak-minded Zedekiah he was more than once imprisoned (chaps, xxxii., xxxiii., xxxvii., xxxviii.). It is remarkable that, in the tension of feeling, the " princes," who were formerly friendly to Jeremiah, now took up an attitude of decided hostility to him. At last they had him consigned to a miry dungeon, and it was the king who interfered for his relief, though he remained a prisoner till the fall of Jerusalem. Nebuchad-nezzar, who had doubtless heard of Jeremiah's constant recommendations of submission, gave him the choice either of going to Babylon or of remaining in the country (chaps, xxxviii., xxxix.). He chose the latter, and resided with Gedaliah, the native governor, at Mizpah. On the murder of Gedaliah he was carried to Egypt against his will (chaps. xl.-xliii.), where he predicted the approaching conquest and desolation of the Nile valley. A legendary tradition states that he suffered death by stoning.

2. Character and Literary Style.—It is interesting to compare Jeremiah with Isaiah. The earlier prophet had advantages which were denied to the latter; he lived at a period of comparative national prosperity, and his moral and intellectual gifts were of a stronger and more striking order. But Jeremiah has this noteworthy point in his favour that he overcame the natural shrinking of a some-what feminine character, and showed himself able, in a strength not his own, to resist impediments which even Isaiah would have found terribly great. " When," as Ewald says, " the truth and the spirit of Jehovah call him or the resisting world provokes him to the contest, he then knows nothing of diffidence and fear, nothing of tenderness and pliability, he contends before the eyes of all with the most decisive energy against every false prophet who mis-leads the people (xxviii. 6 sq., xxix. 15 sq., 24 sq.); if the truth has not been proclaimed with due faithfulness to the king, he goes still, as Isaiah did in his day, without hesitancy, to the royal palace (xxii. 1-19, xxxiv. 2-7); and, although himself of a priestly family, he speaks from the very first with special emphasis against the growing degeneracy of the priests (i. 18, ii. 26, iv. 9), and is never weary of speaking against every kind of arbitrariness wherever and in whatever form it is found (xxxiv. 8-22, xxxvii. 14 sq.)." Another point of contrast is well worth noticing. Only five years after Jeremiah's first appearance as a prophet that great reform took place which was associated with the " discovery" of the Deuteronomic Torah. It is a highly probable conjecture (comp. chap, xi.) that Jeremiah was at the outset an ardent preacher of the contents of this great book; at any rate, his memory became surcharged with the ideas and even the phrases of Deuteronomy. The consequences of the reforming endea-vours of what may be called the Deuteronomic party were both good and evil. The centralization of religion, and the emphasis laid on the moral duties, were steps of the highest importance. " But inasmuch as a sacred book was as such for the first time looked upon with greater reverence as a state authority, there arose thus early a kind of book-science with its pedantic pride and erroneous learned endeavours to interpret and apply the Scriptures; whilst at the same time there arose also a new7 kind of hypocrisy and idolatry of the letter, through the new pro-tection which the state gave to the religion of the book acknowledged by the law. Thus scholastic wisdom came into conflict with genuine prophecy" (Ewald, The Prophets, iii. 63, 64). But something more than this was the result. '•' Hear ye the words of this covenant," was the address with which Jeremiah began his Deuteronomic preaching; but, as time went on, a deeper view of the covenant forced itself upon his mature mind, and the expression which it has found in xxxi. 31-34 is one of the passages which best deserve to be called " the gospel before Christ." It is sad that Jeremiah could not always keep his spirit under the calming influence of these high thoughts. No book of the Old Testament, except the Book of Job and the Psalms, contains so much which is difficult to reconcile with the character of a self-denying servant of Jehovah. Such expressions as those in xi. 20, xv. 15, and especially xviii. 21-23, contrast powerfully with Luke xxiii. 34, and show that the vyrjical character of Jeremiah is not absolutely complete.

No wonder if Jeremiah's style is feeble compared with that of the " royal prophet" Isaiah,—if he gladly leans on older prophets, and copies or imitates more than a bolder genius would have permitted. His utterance is interrupted by sobs, and he is without the energy to soar to poetic heights. His brevity is that of " the evening star of pro-phecy," and Ewald even remarks (with some exuberance, perhaps) that he has "great wealth of new figures with great delicacy of description, a literary facility that readily adapts itself to the most different subjects, .... and with all this an unadorned simplicity which is very unlike the greater artificiality of his contemporary Habakkuk."

3. Dates of the Propliecies.—According to Bleek, the following prophecies belong in all probability to the reign of Josiah, (a) ii. 1-iii. 5, (b) iii. 6-vi. 30 (expressly referred to this period), (c) vii. 1-ix. 25, (d) xi. 1-17. Dated prophecies meet us again in the time of Jehoiakim. Chap, xxvi., according to its own statement, arose in the beginning of his reign ; and it is held by some that chap, vii. gives the same prophecy as xxvi. 2-6, only in a fuller form. The prophecy against Egypt in xlvi. 2-12, and the prophecy of the vast extension of the Babylonian power in chap, xxv., are both dated in the fourth year of Jehoiakim (the latter is evidently not free from interpolations). To the same eventful year, according to most scholars, belongs the writing of all Jeremiah's prophecies in the roll which was read before Jehoiakim; but we have already seen reason to doubt the soundness of this view. At any rate, chap. xxxv. belongs to this period, as the superscription and the contents combine to show. Bleek also refers several other prophecies to the reign of Jehoiakim, e.g., (a) xvi. 1-xvii. 18, (6) xvii. 19-27, (c) xiv., xv., (d) xviii., (e) xi. 18-xii. 17. To the short reign of Jehoiachiu, or to the last period of Jehoiakim's, we may refer x. 17-23, and perhaps chap, xiii., with its account of a strange symbolical action connected with the Euphrates or more probably (Hitzig) Ephrath, i.e., Bethlehem. Zedekiah's reign is much more fully represented in the prophecies; see chaps, xxii.-xxiv., xxvii.i-xxix., and, if li. 59 is to be followed, chaps. L, li. A little later in the same reign we may place chaps, xix., xx., which describe some remark-able scenes in Jeremiah's history. Later still, at the beginning of the siege of Jerusalem, fall xxxiv. 1-7, chap, xxi., and the group of chapters beginning at chap, xxxii., the important prophecies in chaps, xxx., xxxi,, also perhaps belong to this period ; and of course chap, xxxvii. and the two following chapters.

It should be mentioned here that there are some portions of the book the Jeremianic authorship of which has been entirely or in part denied, (a) Chap. x. 1-16 was written, according to Movers, Hitzig, Graf, Knobel, and Naegelsback by a prophet of the captivity—Movers and Hitzig say, by the author of Isaiah xl.-lxvi. (6) Chaps, xxx.-xxxiii., according to Movers and Hitzig, have been brought into their present shape by the author of Isa. xl.-lxvi., though the basis is Jeremianic. (c) Chaps. 1., li., which Bleek assigns to the fourth year of Zedekiah, was according to Movers and Hitzig brought into its present form by a captivity prophet, working on a Jeremianic basis, while Ewald and Knobel hold it to have been entirely written at the close of the captivity, (d) Chap. Iii. evidently forms the close of a history of the kings of Judah, and no doubt of the history followed very closely by the editor of the Books of Kings.

1 In xxvii. all critics agree that for " Jehoiakim " we should substi-tute, with the Syriac version, " Zedekiah."

We cannot here enter fully into this subject. But some-thing may be said on chaps. 1., li. It is open to grave doubt whether Jeremiah wrote these chapters. That he composed a prophecy against Babylon may be granted, and that he gave it to Seraiah with the charge described in li. 61-64 ; but it does not follow that the present prophecy on Babylon was the one referred to in ver. 60. There are special reasons for the opposite view, and they are analogous to these which lead so many students to doubt the Isaianic origin of Isa. xl.-lxvi. For example,—(1) the author of the latter prophecy (or the greater part thereof) writes as if he were living at the close of the Babylonian exile. So does the author of Jer. 1., li. See chap. li. verses 33, 6 and 45, 11 and 28, 20-23. (2) Although the above statement is literally true of most of Isa. xl.-lxvi., yet there are some passages which are much more sugges-tive of a Palestinian than of a Babylonian origin (see ISAIAH). Precisely so in Jer. 1., li., at least according to one prevalent interpretation of 1. 5, li. 50 (which are thought to imply a residence in Jerusalem), 1. 28, li. 11, 35, 51 (suggestive, perhaps, of the continuance of Jerusalem and the temple), I. 17, li. 34 (implying, as some think, that Nebuchadnezzar is still alive). Still there is so much doubt respecting the soundness of the inferences that it is hardly safe to rely too confidently upon them. The case of Jer. 1., li. is therefore in so far rather less favourable to Jeremiah's authorship than that of Isa. xl.-lxvi. is to that of Isaiah. (3) Amongst much that is new and strange in the style and phraseology of Isa. xl.-lxvi., there is not a little that reminds one forcibly of the old Isaiah. Similarly with Jer. 1., li. " Every impartial judge," says Kuenen, "must admit that the number of parallel pas-sages is very large, and that the author of chaps. 1., li. agrees with no one more than with Jeremiah." For instance, the formula, " Thus saith Jehovah Sabaoth, the God of Israel" (1. 18, li. 33) also occurs in vii. 3, ix. 15, and some twenty-six other passages ; comp. also 1. 3 with ix. 9 ; 1. 5 with xxxii. 40; 1. 7 with ii. 3, xiv. 18, xvii. 13.

The probability would therefore appear to be that, what-ever solution we adopt for the literary problems of Isa. xl.-lxvi., an analogous solution must be adopted for Jer. 1., li. The whole question is so large, and connects itself with so many other problems, that the present writer declines to pronounce upon it here. Only it should be observed—_ (1) that both subject and tone remind us of Isa. xl.-lxvi., and the kindred prophecies scattered about in the first part of the Book of Isaiah, and more especially of Isa. xiii. and the closely related prophecy, Isa. xxxiv.; (2) that these two chapters, Jer. 1. and li., present some striking points of contact with Ezekiel, who, though contemporary with Jeremiah, was still a late contemporary, and allusions to whom (since Ezekiel was a literary rather than an oratorical prophet) imply that his prophetic book was already in circulation—in other words, suggest a date well on in the exile for the prophet who alludes to him; (3) that, though there are many Jeremianic allusions in Jer. L, li., there are also several passages copied almost verbally from prophe-cies of Jeremiah and applied to Babylon and its assailants (it seems difficult to believe that Jeremiah should have been so economical of his literary work). It deserves to be added (4) that, though Jeremiah is a great student of the earlier prophetic writings, and makes numerous allu-sions to them (see especially chaps, xlvi.-xlix.), nothing approaching to the mosaic work in Jer. 1., li. can be pointed to in the undoubted prophecies of Jeremiah. In fact, the author of these chapters has borrowed almost the whole of their contents from other prophets,—his own property, so to speak, being too insignificant to be worth mentioning.

4. The Massoretic Text and the Septuagint Version.— The Alexandrian version presents an unusually large amount of variation from the received Plebrew text. Even in the order of the prophecies there is one remarkable dis-crepancy, viz., in the series of prophecies against foreign nations (chaps, xxv. 15-xlv. become in the LXX. chaps, xxxii.-li., the series of prophecies in question being transposed); and there is no doubt an approach to the truth in the LXX. arrangement. More important are the differences of reading. " The LXX. has very few additions, and these only single words or syllables ; on the contrary, there are many omissions of words, sentences, verses, and whole passages (altogether about 2700 words are wanting, or the eighth part of the Massoretic text) ; also alterations of passages, sometimes not without influence on the sense " (Bleek) ; and these discrepancies are of extremely early date, for the state of the Greek text was already noticed by Origen (Bp. ad Afric, p. 56, Migne). Three principal explanations have been offered —(1) the error of copyists (Jerome, Grabe); (2) negligence and caprice on the part of the Greek translators (Spohn, Naegelsbach, Wichelhaus, Keil, Graf); (3) the existence of various (or at least two) recensions of the Hebrew, the recension used by LXX. being nearer to the original text than that of the Massorets (J. D. Michaelis, Movers, Hitzig, Bleek). A better view is that adopted by Ewald, Schrader, and Kuenen, according to which the Massoretic text is on the whole the best; but the Greek version, in spite of the manifold errors and caprices of the translator, sometimes approaches more nearly to the original than the Massoretic text.

Modem Literature.—Venema, Comment, in librum, prophet. Jere-mias, 2 vols., Leeuwarden, 1765 ; Blayney, Jeremiah and Lamen-tations, a new translation, with notes critical, philological, and explanatory, London, 1781 ; Spohn, Jeremias vales e vers. Jud. Alexandr. ac reliqu. interpr. Crsec. emendatus, nolisque crit. illus-tratus, 2 vols., Leipsic, 1794, 1824 (of little value); Roorda, Comm. in aliquot Jer. loca, Groningen, 1824 ; Movers, De utrius-que recensionis vaticiniorum Jeremim, Gfrsecse Alexandrinm et Hebraicee Masorcthicm, indole et origine, Hamburg, 1837 ; Kiiper, Jeremias librorum sanctorum interpret atque vindex, Berlin, 1837 ; Wichelhaus, De Jeremias versions Alexandrina, Halle, 1847 ; Scholz, Der Mas. Text wnd die LXX. Uebers. d. B. Jer., 1875; Guthe, De Foederis notione Jeremiana, 1877. Commentaries by Graf, Leipsic, 1862 ; Hitzig, 2d ed., Leipsic, 1866 ; Naegelsbach, Bielefeld and Leipsic, 1868 ; Keil, Leipsic, 1872 ; Payne Smith (Speaker's Commentary, vol. v.), London, 1875 ; Ewald (vol. iii. nf English translation of Die Propheten), London, 1879; Scholz, 1880 ; Cheyne (Pulpit Commentary), in the press. (T. K. C.)


Compare a paper by Budde in Jahrb. f. D. Theol., 1879

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